How is Telehealth rapidly changing in these challenging times? In this article we answer this question in detail.
It doesn’t take an anthropologist to realize that 2020 might change the human experience forever. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are maintaining social distance and as a result, using the internet more and more to stay connected. Thus, the use of technology has exponentially increased during this time.
The fear of contracting the virus by stepping outside has also transformed the face of medicine, with people turning to telehealth more often for their healthcare needs. In fact, according to a recent survey by Sage Growth Partner (SGP) and Black Book Market Research, 59% of people said they are more likely to use telehealth services now than before.
Thus, with COVID-19, the telehealth industry’s success is witnessing a massive surge. From patients looking to keep regular appointments, to those wanting to consult with mental health experts, and even those who want to check if they’re at risk of contracting COVID-19, many individuals are now embracing telehealth. Technology, in turn, is expanding and adapting to help the telehealth boom, with companies like Amazon updating their technology and forming partnerships to execute services like prescription delivery updates and storing blood sugar measurements. Today, Amazon’s Alexa is even enabled to carry out HIPPA-compliant healthcare services.
Developments like these illustrate how technology-enabled telehealth can help better the lives of many individuals who are in need of healthcare services. Let’s look at some of the other benefits this rapidly changing-industry provides:
Why Telehealth is a Boom
As telehealth soars, it’s hard not to celebrate the many benefits its success brings. Some of the ways in which telehealth positively affects patient care include:
Contactless Diagnosis and Virtual Nursing
In the wake of a pandemic, the key is social distancing. From cases in psychology to dermatology or ENT, there are several illnesses and conditions that can be diagnosed through virtual appointments. This means a much lesser chance of at-risk patients coming into contact with a virus or contagious illness in waiting rooms and hospitals.
Secondly, though nursing is often associated with constant physical care, telehealth allows nurses to advise patients on treatment, check their vitals, and correctly instruct their patients on proper healthcare practices. This capability is still currently limited but holds great potential in the future.
Access and Collaboration Through Eased Regulations
Having online communications like phone and video calls as well as patient portals help medical professionals give their patients faster, easier access to them. It also allows medical professionals to collaborate on special cases, resulting in a more robust diagnosis, and innovative treatment options.
Today, this is made even more feasible with countries like the USA passing regulatory resolutions quicker than ever to encourage service providers and patients to opt for telehealth. This comes with the goal of reducing the burden on physical medical institutions, minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19, and “to curb the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) that needs to be saved for medical staff on the front lines,” reports Forbes.
It’s no secret that visits to large hospitals or distinguished practitioners are often too expensive for patients. Telehealth significantly reduces those costs in certain cases. For instance, if an issue that’s unexpected and time-sensitive crops up, a virtual appointment with a doctor could let the patient receive immediate attention and save them time and money on an emergency room visit.
Another one of the telehealth industry’s setbacks was the difference in insurance reimbursements for telehealth consultations compared to in-person visits. Additionally, physicians were also paid a lower amount for virtual consultations. Both these factors resulted in the lack of promotion of telehealth services, for medical consultants and patients alike. Now, as reported by Forbes, more insurance companies have started expanding coverage to include telehealth appointments. Similarly, physicians are also being compensated at almost the same amount as an in-person visit. These factors make telehealth a cost-effective option for patients and practitioners alike.
The pandemic has brought with it a fair share of fear and anxiety. In turn, this can have grave effects on our mental health and well-being. Online therapy services certainly help solve this problem. Also known as telemental health, virtual therapy makes for increased convenience when it comes to scheduling and attending an appointment.
Additionally, as stated by Lindsay Henderson, PsyD, assistant director of psychological services at a Boston-based telehealth company, “talking with a therapist from the privacy of one’s own home — or wherever one may be — is a huge draw for consumers, many of whom are seeking therapy for the first time in their lives.” In this way, a positive virtual therapy experience can also lead to a patient seeing the value in and seeking out face-to-face therapy — a step in the right direction in terms of caring for one’s mental health.
The Downsides of Telehealth
As is with most things, this isn’t perfect, and has a few shortcomings that must be considered:
Wi-fi and Cybersecurity Concerns
An article by Concorde University points out that telehealth requires both patients and service providers to have fast, strong, and consistent internet connections and supporting devices. These are amenities not all patients can afford or understand how to use. In South Africa, for instance, over 25 million people lack Internet access, and those that do have access to reliable Internet pay exorbitantly for it.
Secondly, the essential utilization of the Internet for these services brings about real cybersecurity concerns. Accessing telehealth portals through public networks or poorly secured systems could leave patients vulnerable to cyber attacks or privacy breaches, and put large amounts of sensitive data at risk. For telehealth to succeed, the safety of patient data needs to be guaranteed.
Nurses and doctors are usually registered in one particular location. Telehealth services could complicate where they could receive patients from, and whether or not they can provide their services if that person does not fall in the geographical jurisdiction of their license.
In unprecedented times like these where the healthcare system is under severe strain, telehealth is emerging as an efficient, affordable, and reliable solution. With this in mind, telehealth has the ability to provide patients with care at minimal risk to themselves and give the public some much-needed hope and reassurance.
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